HomeEducationSustainability EducationDressing ourselves to save the Earth

Dressing ourselves to save the Earth

Driving cars. Throwing trash in lakes. Using too much electricity. Buying fast fashion.

Which of the above is a surprise when it comes to an environmentally unfriendly action? As someone who pays attention to environmental issues and is studying sustainability, the clothing I wear was not front of mind as something I thought about adding to our environmental problems. It turns out that fast fashion – or low-cost collections of clothing that mimic fashion trends that change very quickly – is second only to oil in environmental impact and accounts for 3 percent of global CO2 emissions, according to the Carbon Trust. The ability to sell cheap clothing made overseas at very low labor costs has allowed cheap fashion to explode. The Environmental Protection Agency says that in 2013, 15.1 million tons of textile waste was generated of which 12.8 million tons were discarded. It is hard to even picture in our minds that much waste, but the impact is real.

On April 5th, 2017, there was an entire day devoted to the impact of the clothing industry, reusing and repairing clothing and household appliances and electronics, as the University of Minnesota hosted the Worn Wear Repair Fair Tour and hosted a screening of The True Cost, a film about the social and environmental impact of the clothing industry. The day was a fruitful partnership between It All Adds Up, the U of M Sustainability Education Department, St. Catherine University, the Patagonia Worn Wear Tour, University of Minnesota and St. Catherine fashion design students and local environmental organizations devoted to reduce, reuse, and repair.

Students and visitors lined up to have garments repaired by Patagonia, electronics repaired by Hennepin County Fix-It Clinic technicians and learn what can be recycled from the city of Minneapolis recycling experts.

Green Outfit made from graduation gowns

Design students from St. Kate’s and the University of Minnesota started the evening off with a remarkable fashion of upcycled and recycled designs at Northrop’s Best Buy Theater. Before the film, viewers could interact with students from the Sustainability in Fashion Student Group, who ask “How do we deal with our love of apparel while knowing how damaging it can be for the planet?” Two U of M students who own an upcycled clothing business called Pacify MPLS were there with samples of their clothing line.


Front of rice bag dress

Following the fashion show was the screening of The True Cost movie. It was an excellent documentary that brought the impact down to a story that made it real, and sad, and also hopeful. It is hard to forget the impact of 1,138 people dying and 2500 injured when the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed, while workers made cheap clothing for us. Or the mother who has to leave her child with relatives because there is no one to take care of her while she works in a clothing factory in Bangladesh. But, the film is not just about pity. She was a strong woman who is now fighting for workers’ rights, even in the face of violence. And there are designers and companies that are changing the fashion industry for the better. And steps we can take to minimize our impact.


Back of rice bag dress

Raincoat made from broken air mattress

After the film, there was a lecture by St. Kate’s Department Chair and associate professor in the Fashion Merchandising department, Anupama Pasricha. Professor

Pasricha brought a rich perspective on the impact of the fashion industry and led an insightful discussion.




So now what. You know a bit about the impact of the fashion industry, but how do you engage and make a difference?


Here are a few resources:

Visit The True Cost movie website and check out videos of why consumers, brands they love, and five tips for shopping smarter, starting with “Will I wear it 30 times?”

The Fashion Revolution is an organization profiled in the movie that asks “who made my clothes?” and under what conditions. Visit their site for ways to be part of the Fashion Revolution.

Clean Clothes Campaign – Improving working conditions in the global garment industry

Reuse Center at the University of Minnesota – don’t forget this amazing resource for home and dorm supplies and when you are moving out!

Photos Courtesy of Kyle Samejima

Communications Assistant


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